On The Trail of A Sleeping Bear

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-6-otter-creek_5015acsIf it’s Michigan, it must be Sleeping Bear Dunes.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-5-empire-trail_4997acsEvery summer that I visit Michigan, I try to spend a day in the sprawling Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Every summer I discover a new favorite place.

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and Glen Haven.

The Port Oneida Rural Historic District and Platter River Point.

This year it was…

Wait. We have to get there first. In Sleeping Bear Dunes, the journey is the destination. Here are some scenes from the trail.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-3-empire-trail_4734acsGlaciers played a large role in shaping the hills and lakes of the area, depositing deep layers of sand and debris. In this poor soil grows a dense forest of maple and birch. Scattered boulders known as “erratics” were carried here by glaciers from their origins far away.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-3-empire-trail_4776acsAlong the path I look at every fern. Finally, a wood fern I can identify. See the spores along the margins of the frond’s pinnules? It’s a Marginal Wood Fern!

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-6-otter-creek_5049acsOtter Creek.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-2-stocking-drive_4644acsMy new friend is bright-eyed and curious.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-3-empire-trail_4737acs 160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-7-otter-lake_5070acsSunny opening in the woods along the shore of Otter Lake.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-7-otter-lake_5059acsOtter Lake.

160725_mi-sleeping-bear-dunes-5-empire-trail_4987acsThe best destinations offer journeys of their own. This path took me to my new favorite place in Sleeping Bear Dunes…

In The Neighborhood

160505_PA Home Fox_6938acsLook who dropped in for a visit!

I live in a suburban development built in 1950. Rows of three-bedroom houses flank sidewalk-lined streets. Lots one-tenth of an acre in size are carpeted in grass, lined with ornamental trees and shrubs and gardens full of non-native flowers. The nearby school draws many children, and car traffic is heavy during the busy times of the day.

In other words, there’s not much habitat here for wildlife.

Yet wild critters exist here, and even thrive. Many of the “backyard” bird species are here. Northern Flickers and House Wrens have nested or tried to nest in my birch tree, there’s another nest with babies in my American holly, and last week while I was reading a Common Yellowthroat warbler walked across my porch as bold as you please.

I’ve seen garter snakes in my rock pile, and twice painted turtles took a slow amble through my garden, headed to I don’t know where.

Squirrels and rabbits abound. Raccoons, opossums and small mammals like field mice are around. We don’t often see them, but might see evidence of their passing. To my disappointment, my neighborhood lacks chipmunks.

It doesn’t lack red foxes, however. One of these beautiful animals paid a visit early one morning. There is a park a few blocks away. Though it is mostly open grass and playground equipment, it seems to be adequate habitat for the fox family that lives there.

I suspect more than a few of the neighbors are not happy with the presence of the foxes. They worry that the foxes might carry disease or eat their pets. They might like to see them removed; after all, this is a humans’ world, and wildlife has no place in it.

Yet many also complain about rabbits raiding their vegetable gardens, and shriek at the sight of a mouse. Those small mammals make up a good portion of the diet of a red fox. Remove the predators, and there will be more rabbits to eat your vegetables and mice to get into your house.

Life is a complex web of interrelationships amongst the animals and plants. All are dependent for survival on each other. Through technology and industry, humans have largely removed ourselves from that web. But we still share our space with creatures large and small, and should respect their right to life on their own terms.

Foxes in the neighborhood remind us that even here we live on the Wild Edge.

Winter’s Edge

141122_NJ Stone Harbor Point_1513acsLong gone are the warm days of summer, days when families crowded the beach with their beach blankets and umbrellas, their sand pails and horseshoe sets. The only creatures frolicking in the surf are ducks. The stiff ocean breeze, so welcome when the temperature was 80°, is a torment at 35°. Autumn lingers, but teeters on the edge of winter. The beach is empty.

Of humans, but not of wonders.

At last, the beach is ours!

141122_NJ Stone Harbor Point_1563acsFrom late fall to mid-spring, the Jersey Shore is ours to explore, empty of crowds and noise. Now there are plenty of treasures to collect, shells and rocks and sea glass, safe from the many feet and the mechanical beach-sweepers of summer.

141122_NJ Stone Harbor Point_1555acs2Lines of dune fencing stretch across white sand to the horizon.

141128_NJ Holgate_2948acsThe winter birds arrive at the Shore with the colder weather. Long-tailed Ducks bob in the waves. The females seem to have a lot to say to the pink-billed males.

141128_NJ Holgate_2706acsThis sparrow-like bird is a Snow Bunting.

141128_NJ Holgate_2774acsAs we walked along the beach at Holgate one November day, we kept seeing these odd tree sculptures. For a bit, we thought some enterprising soul had placed driftwood on end as an artistic expression. Then we realized that these were the broken stumps of dead trees, and we were walking amidst what once had been wooded dunes.

141128_NJ Holgate2902-5 Pan acsThe dunes at Holgate, looking west toward Barnegat Bay. The southern tip of Long Beach Island is a part of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. It didn’t always look like this. Only a few years ago, it was a thicket of dune plants and shrubs. Then Superstorm Sandy paid a visit, inundating the entire area, breeching the island from bay to ocean in places. These weathered roots, trunks and branches are what are left of once vital vegetation. Devastated, but starkly beautiful.

FUN FACT: These plants were flooded with water, but died of thirst. Why? Fresh water flows easily into a plant through the tissues of the roots, a process called osmosis. But this was a saltwater inundation. Ever have a salt shaker gum up in humid weather? Salt absorbs water very easily, pulling water from the plants into the soil and leading to dehydration. It also interferes with the chemical processes by which a plant obtains nutrients. The combination of nutrient and water deficiencies has laid waste to the dune plants.

141122_NJ Stone Harbor Point_1480acsThis is what a healthy dune community should look like. Stone Harbor Point.

141122_NJ Stone Harbor Point_1520acsGood fences make good neighbors.

141122_NJ Stone Harbor Point_1489acsDune fences make good dunes, and if successful, good dune grasses and plants.

141122_NJ Stone Harbor Point_1552aGood fences make good backdrops for wildflowers, still abloom in mid-November.

141122_NJ Hereford Inlet_1646acsOne doesn’t have to go far from the beach to find woodland critters. The gardens at Hereford Lighthouse provide a fine place for squirrels to make a living.

141122_NJ Nummys Island_1892acsIn the late light of day, a pair of American Oystercatchers squabbles.

Even on the edge of winter, wonders abound at the wild edge.

Git Along Little Doggies

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8343acs Getting my daily dose of wildlife while visiting family on vacation can be frustrating. At home I know when and where to go to find cool critters. Heinz Refuge and Cape May in early May for warblers, the Delaware Bayshore in late May for horseshoe crabs and red knots, Hawk Mountain in the fall for raptors. When I go away to visit family, it’s an excellent opportunity to visit new places. But the timing of the visits isn’t always conducive to wildlife spotting.

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8314aI go to Texas in the winter. Except at White Rock Lake (where there’s always something happening) I pretty much have to take what I can get.

That means a lot of landscape and plant photography, and accepting that brown is the color of the day.

Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge was no different when I visited; lots of neat habitat, not a lot of wildlife.

Except for the prairie dogs!

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8278acs The Nature Center has a prairie dog town. It’s a large area of fenced prairie; I’m not sure whether the fence is to keep the prairie dogs in, or the humans out. The sign above would seem to indicate the latter.

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8481acsInside the enclosure, a good number of the little rodents go about their lives. Yes, they are rodents, related to squirrels. The “dog” name comes from their high-pitched bark. Prairie dogs are highly social. They live together in family groups, sometimes called a coterie; a number of groups comprise a ward, and a number of wards make up a town.

The land is peppered with the entrances to their burrows. Weather is harsh in the prairies, and burrows offer protection from floods, hailstorms, fires and temperature extremes. Below the ground are a number of separate chambers for sleeping, raising babies, food storage and elimination. There may be as many as 6 entrances to a burrow. The craters serve as lookout posts and ventilation.

FUN FACT: Burrow holes have different shapes and heights. When the wind blows, air moves into the burrow through the lower, more rounded dome craters; it passes through the burrow and exits through the higher, sharper-edged rim crater.

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8444acsPrairie dogs dance! Nuzzling and grooming is common among family groups. It’s ridiculously cute when they do this. Call it the Texas Two-step.

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8448acsCONSERVATION PIECE: Not everyone thinks prairie dogs are cute. They feed on grasses, sedges and roots, keeping the vegetation short and churning up the soil. This benefits the habitat by enriching the plant life and attracting other wildlife. Their burrows can provide homes for other critters as well. Because of their importance to the plains, prairie dogs are considered a keystone species.

Despite this, farmers and ranchers often consider them pests, and eliminate them where possible. This has contributed to a population nose-dive, which has had a ripple effect across the plains. The endangered black-footed ferret, which relies on prairie dogs for shelter and food, has been driven to near-extinction by their eradication.

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8359acsPrairie dogs have a number of predators besides humans, including raptors, coyotes, snakes and ferrets. So they need to be wary. Living communally affords them safety in numbers. One or more prairie dogs will be on lookout duty at all times.

FUN FACT: Things get interesting when a threat is detected. Prairie dogs have a large repertoire of barks and calls. Years of study have revealed that these calls are capable of indicating not only which species of animal is threatening the colony, but can describe the individual animal. A prairie dog call for a tall human is different than the call for a short one!

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8494acsAlways on the lookout, a lone sentry stands guard.

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8346aAll clear!

Fort Worth NCR Prairie Dog_8355acsAnd off we go.

The Sounding Board: To Hunt or Not to Hunt?

The Sounding Board Header 1 cs2

First in an occasional series exploring a motley collection of issues. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the Wild Edge Blog Mistress, not WordPress.com. Furthermore they are constantly evolving. Feel free to comment, applaud or argue. Try to change my mind! Please keep it respectful and pleasant.

While driving around the perimeter of Middle Creek WMA, I came upon a small flock of geese in a field. I couldn’t believe my luck – they were SO close. Then I put my camera up to my eye, and this is what I saw:

Middle Creek Decoys_5751 acsHmm. Snow goose windsocks. A loudspeaker was playing goose calls, and a man in white coveralls lay prone amidst the faux geese. My first thought was that there was some sort of research project going on.

How naïve. It took several days for me to realize that this was a hunting layout.

Snow goose hunting was banned in 1916 when population numbers were too low. Since the geese discovered the waste grain bounty in the 1970s, snow goose populations have boomed. The Atlantic Flyway population that passes through Pennsylvania has grown from 50,000 in the mid-1960s to over one million in recent years. Other flyway populations are expanding even more. Estimates have placed total growth at close to 9% a year.

Middle Creek Snow Geese Distant_5442 acsIt turns out you can have too much of a good thing. The exploding numbers of snow geese have put tremendous pressure on habitats the goose uses. Particularly vulnerable are the fragile Arctic wetlands where the goose breeds. The damage caused by these voracious eating machines not only impacts their own breeding success, but threatens that of nesting shorebirds and other species that share their habitats.

Snow goose hunting was reinstated in the 1970s for population control. Today, a population goal of 500,000 has been set for the Atlantic Flyway population, and in 2008, the USFWS has finalized a Conservation Order allowing Pennsylvania and other states to conduct a Conservation Hunting Season for snow geese. The conservation season differs in that it extends into the migration season, and allows the use of electronic recordings and decoys. Middle Creek WMA is both a refuge for migratory snow geese, and a strictly-monitored hunting area where specially licensed sportsmen can hunt geese for the purpose of population control.

I should mention that there were no live geese to be seen anywhere near that field. Those goose decoys? Clearly the real ones weren’t buying it.

I’ve got a love/hate thing going with hunting. On an individual basis, I hate to see any animal die before its time. Nature has other ideas, of course; big fish eat the little fish, bigger fish eat the big fish, and so on. The cycle of life.

But Man stepped in and started monkeying around with the system, removing predators, destroying habitat, suppressing wildfires, hunting, or banning hunting. We humans bear a heavy burden of responsibility to step in and manage populations so they don’t get out of control.

Valley Forge_0246a ACS Print Take the white-tailed deer, for instance. In Pennsylvania, like so many other places, it’s a pest. Way too many deer are living in habitat that can support a population a tenth of its actual size. The deer destroy the understory that many other critters, from songbirds to small mammals, depend on. Not to mention the damage a car-deer collision can do, to both car and deer, and in my area these encounters are legion.

HNWR Deer_7189 ASCDeer, and snow geese, are beautiful animals, and I love seeing and photographing them. But I also see the bigger picture. Populations have exploded, largely due to the intervention of Man. Is it right to allow other animals suffer from the habitat depredation caused by the deer and geese? Is it right to allow the deer to starve in the winter when there isn’t enough browse to support the whole population?

I don’t believe so. Are there answers other than hunting? Maybe. I won’t go into deer contraception here. That’s a controversial issue that is beyond the scope of my expertise. I will say only that my gut tells me it’s inadequate to the job of managing the deer effectively. Man created this problem, and has a moral imperative to seek solutions. Well-regulated hunting is an important tool maintaining animal populations at a level healthy for themselves and the other species with which they share their environment.

Sometimes you have to take a step back to see the forest rather than the trees.Tinicum_7427 AS Orig

Snowed In

Snow at Home_5661acs Snow at Home_5660acsThe mere threat of a snowstorm is enough to induce panic. We scurry to the store to buy milk, bread and eggs – obviously in desperate need of French toast – and then hunker down as if we won’t be free of our homes for a month. When the snow stops, all we can see is the hours of shoveling, and the icy roads on which we’ll have to skid our way around town. We’ve lost our childhood delight in the wonders of the falling snow, in the way it transforms even the most familiar landscapes.

Fortunately, there’s a cure for this malady, and it’s a simple as picking up a camera and looking at the white-frosted world through its lens.

During the storm, a Carolina chickadee finds shelter in a gray birch tree, while a dark-eyed junco finds plenty to eat under my bird feeders.Snow at Home_5624acs

Snow at Home_5634acsMr. Squirrel ignores the food in front of him, and instead plots to raid the can of birdseed. The grass is always greener to our furry friend.

HNWR In Snow_8817a HNWR In Snow_8924acsA sunny day right after the storm entices us out to walk the trails at Heinz NWR.

This is the first time I’ve seen the Refuge covered in snow, and it’s delightful. Even the most ordinary things take on a new look.

Our old friend the chicken fungus now wears the face of Old Man Winter.

HNWR In Snow_8890a HNWR In Snow_8780aSparrows flit about among the grasses. We see tiny bird tracks and larger deer tracks everywhere. The snow is like Facebook for critters, recording their every movement for us to read.

HNWR In Snow_9005a HNWR In Snow_8863a HNWR In Snow_8902a HNWR In Snow_8931acs HNWR In Snow_8872aWinter is the time for beavers to get busy.

Frost_9058acs 2 Even a 2° morning has its charms. The polar vortex etches little ice feathers on my windows. Look quickly! The warmth of the house starts melting these beauties before I can even finish photographing them.

It’s so easy to come down with a case of snow panic with every storm. We all need to slow down, stop worrying and put down the shovel long enough to partake of the cure. An unhurried walk in a winter wonderland gives us a fresh look at our familiar world, and the gentle touch of Mother Nature’s magic lifts our souls.  HNWR In Snow_8909a

Dallas, On the Wild Edge

White Rock Lake Birds_5593a Winter scenery from deep in the heart of Texas. All in an urban or suburban setting. All within a short drive of Dallas.

Great-tailed Grackle at White Rock Lake, above.

White Rock Lake Birds_5616aSnow Goose, White Rock Lake – the “Blue Goose” color morph.

White Rock Lake_6637b Eastern Fox Squirrel, White Rock Lake.

White Rock Lake_6857aMonk Parakeets, White Rock Lake.

White Rock Lake_6802a American White Pelican, White Rock Lake, above and below.White Rock Lake_6877a

Trinity River AC_5434a Trinity River Audubon Center.

Trinity River AC_5304aHarris’s Sparrow, Trinity River Audubon Center.

Trinity River AC_5349a Spotted Towhee, Trinity River Audubon Center.

Cedar Hill State Park_6087a Canvasback, Cedar Hill State Park.

Cedar Hill State Park_6234aCactus, of course. Cedar Hill State Park.

Cedar Hill State Park_6204aGreater Roadrunner, Cedar Hill State Park.


Coming up: Christmas at Longwood Gardens

Hawk Mountain

Hawk Mountain_0372a Welcome to the Endless Mountain, a long ridge known as Kittatinny that stretches 300 miles from Maryland northeastward through Pennsylvania and New Jersey into southern New York. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary sits on that ridge, and is internationally known as a premier place to watch the spectacle of fall raptor migration. Cross winds that hit face of the ridge create updrafts that southward migrating raptors use to carry them over the mountain.

On a clear fall day, with a northwest wind after a cold front, one might be treated to hawks, falcons and eagles flying past in large numbers and at close range. The day Colleen, Erika and I went to Hawk Mountain was not one of those days. It was a fun fall outing for us anyway.

Hawk Mountain Rock_0573aHawk Mountain is in the Ridge and Valley ecoregion, and is completely different from the flat Atlantic Coastal Plain of Heinz Refuge and southern New Jersey that I spend so much time in. For starters, there are hills. LARGE hills. Then there are the rocks. These range from small stones to enormous boulders. Like these at Bald Lookout (above).

Hawk Mountain_0800a From South Lookout we could see the River of Rocks below, a geologic feature that looks like water but is actually an Ice Age boulder field.

Hawk Mountain_0515aThe Lookout Trail was easy at first, well-groomed and relatively flat. Along the way we spotted a few small birds, including this Hermit Thrush (above) and a Tufted Titmouse (below), who was not giving up his leaf toy without a fight.Hawk Mountain_0491a

Hawk Mountain_0637a After Bald Lookout, the trail became much more rocky and challenging. There’s lots to see along the way, though, and stopping to look is a great excuse to catch your breath. The variety of mosses scattered among the stones made for an interesting vignette (above). A lot of the rocks like this one (below) are covered in lichens.Hawk Mountain Rock_0422a

We finally arrived at the North Lookout, and here I learned a valuable lesson: camera and binoculars go INSIDE the daypack at Hawk Mountain while on the trails. I overbalanced on a boulder and sat down VERY hard. I was lucky, just a scraped shin and bruised bum, but I could have done some significant damage to my equipment.

Okay, folks, we’re here and ready for the Raptor Show!  Apparently the hawks didn’t get the message. On this day, the birds that flew over the ridges were so far away as to be no more than specks. The official spotters, who were armed with scopes, told us that we saw Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, and even a Golden Eagle, but they all looked like little black dots to me.

Hawk Mountain_0721a  Dear Mom and Dad, I went to Hawk Mountain and all I got was this lousy Turkey Vulture…

Hawk Mountain_0715aEven the hills were shrouded in mist, muting the brilliant fall color and making landscape photography difficult. Nestled in among the trees were some farms and little towns, just visible through the haze.Hawk Mountain_0822a

Of course, within ten minutes of leaving North Lookout, the sun broke out and the sky turned brilliant blue. No doubt the hawks were laughing at us hapless humans. I think even this little chipmunk was laughing at us. But we enjoyed the day, so we had the last laugh!Hawk Mountain_0789a

 CONSERVATION PIECE: During the Great Depression, the Pennsylvania Game Commission paid $5 for each hawk killed, which led to the widespread slaughter of raptors. Hawk Mountain was a popular place to stand and shoot hundreds of passing hawks for sport. Dead hawks at the SlideConservationists began to oppose the killing, and one ornithologist recovered and photographed the abandoned carcasses. Those photographs reached a New York activist named Rosalie Edge, who in 1934 leased 1,400 acres on Hawk Mountain and immediately imposed a hunting ban. The next year she opened Hawk Mountain to the public to watch the hawks migrate. She then purchased the land and gave it to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association in 1938. Hawk Mountain has been a wonderful place to witness the marvel of migration ever since.

Want more information? http://www.hawkmountain.org/

Historical photo courtesy of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association      http://www.hawkmountain.org/who-we-are/history/page.aspx?id=387 



Michigan’s Shy Wildlife

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Northern Pearly-eye_6060a I went to Michigan hoping to come home with lots of amazing wildlife shots. Last year I saw minks, for gosh sakes. And this year I have this great new long telephoto zoom lens. Confoundingly, Michigan critters are quite camera shy. No mink, no deer, only one chipmunk.

Birds – oh, yes, there were birds. I could hear them all around me, nattering away constantly. But they insisted on playing hide-and-seek with me, teasing with brief flashes of black and yellow, but never settling down long enough to visit.

Here are some of the animals I did manage to capture, mostly of the winged variety. Above is a Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly in Ludington State Park. Check out the natty striped antennas.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Bird_6213aAmerican Redstart, Ludington State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Bird_7291aSong Sparrow, Mitchell State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Bird_7415aChickadee, Mitchell State Park.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Bird_6402aUnidentified Warbler, Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. Maybe a female or juvenile Blackburnian? A little help, anyone?

Eagle Filmstrip 1 No text A juvenile Bald Eagle searches for prey, spots his quarry, closes in, and – IMPACT!

Eagle Filmstrip 2 No Text

To the victor goes the spoils.

Looks like fish for lunch today.

MI Nordhouse Dunes GSF Butterfly_5898aGreat Spangled Fritillary, Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. Who comes up with these names, anyhow?

MI LSP Sable River Trail Common Buckeye_7084a Common Buckeye, Ludington State Park.

MI LSP Lost Lake-Island Trail Widow Skimmer_6452aWidow Skimmer, Ludington State Park.

MI LSP Sable River Trail E Pondhawk_7051aEastern Pondhawk, Ludington State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly_7458aSometimes dragonflies, butterflies and birds of the same species come in different colors. Usually it’s a male/ female thing. For instance, here’s a Ruby Meadowhawk female. Not particularly Ruby, is it? MI Mitchell SP Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly_7365aBut here’s the male Ruby Meadowhawk, and now it’s obvious where the name came from. Mitchell State Park.

MI Mitchell SP Wildlife Midland Painted_7353aAnd now, for some scaly things: Midland Painted Turtle, Mitchell State Park. The front fellow’s a little shy, typical of most of the critters I saw – or didn’t see – in Michigan.

Near misses: Occasionally along the Mitchell Heritage Nature Trail I would hear “shish-shishhh-shish” as a small snake slithered off into the grass. I rarely actually saw them. I also heard the distinctive banjo-like “twang” of a Green Frog a few times.

MI White Pine Village_5430aEnding on a furry note: Chipmunk, White Pine Village.

Coming up: Mich-mash

Independence Day I: Wissahickon Wanderings


What I Did On The Fourth of July

1 Wissahickon_4690 aThis year ranked as one of my more unusual Independence Day holidays. Several Refuge friends and I went exploring in Fairmount Park and then the Morris Arboretum.

Fairmount Park in Philadelphia is the one of the largest urban park systems in the US, and spreads throughout much of the city. The 1800 acre portion along the Wissahickon Creek, known as the Wissahickon Valley, is actually a gorge, with the wooded slopes rising nearly 200 feet above the Creek. It’s as close to wilderness as one could be in a big city.

Our primary goal here was to see the Thomas Mill Road Covered Bridge. To reach it we took a long, easy walk down Forbidden Drive.

1 Wissahickon_4480 aKids swimming in the Creek. It was hot and humid, and later in the day I really wanted to join them.

1 Wissahickon_4487 aOne of the remnant dams along the Creek. The dams supplied water to run the waterwheels of the lumber, paper, and grist mills that once populated the Valley.

Wissahickon Valley Chipmunk_4533 acs  “Oh look – lunch!”

1 Wissahickon_4500 acsTrail art, by humans.

ButterfliesI spent some time trying to persuade at least one Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly to be still long enough for a picture. Didn’t have much luck.

1 Wissahickon_4570 a More trail art. Courtesy of Mother Nature this time.

When you walk anywhere with the botanically-inclined, you can expect frequent discussions on the identity of this or that plant. Here’s Robb (in orange) and Jeff arguing, ahem, discussing the identification of a tree.Jeff & Robb“This tree over here?” “No! THAT tree over THERE!”

1 Wissahickon_4545 aReally cool old building, originally part of a nearby mill, but rebuilt by the Works Projects Administration (WPA)  in 1938. They were used to shelter the Fairmount Park Guards who once patrolled the park.

1 Wissahickon_4710 1 Wissahickon_4719 a Ahhh! At last! The Thomas Mill Road Covered Bridge.

It was built in 1737, and restored by WPA in 1938. It’s the last covered bridge in the Valley, and the only covered bridge in a major U.S. city.

There’s something picturesque about a covered bridge. I think it’s the play of red against the green foliage.

Aren’t all covered bridges red?

Here’s Don, looking every bit the bold explorer, in front of the bridge.covered bridge acs

We crossed over the Creek here, and came back to Valley Green via the trail. A totally different walk. Where the Forbidden Drive was wide, the trail was narrow; where it was flat, the trail climbed sharply up and down; where the Drive was crowded with bikers and runners and horses, the trail was – well, not empty, but certainly less crowded.

Our goal along the trail side of the Wissahickon was “The Indian”. The Valley was once the home of the Lenni-Lenape people. In 1902, after they were long gone, a 15 foot high sculpture was erected in their honor. It depicts a Lenni-Lenape warrior, kneeling and shading his brow as he watches his tribe depart from the region. Of course, the artist couldn’t be bothered to differentiate among the traditions of the various Native American nations that lived here. Which is why an Eastern Woodland Indian is wearing a Western Plains Indian headdress.

On the Forbidden Drive side we’d come upon a sign marking the Indian statue, placed high up on the far bank of the creek.  The only trouble was, we couldn’t see the statue for the trees.

With the help of some other trekkers, we found the pathway to the Indian.This was a short but tough trail that went straight up; you get some idea of the steepness of the Gorge from this set of stairs. We found ourselves below the base of the statue. This was a great view, and I wanted a great shot, but as you can see but I blew the focus. Oh, well, I will just have to go back.Indian collageUp at the top we got a perspective I am quite familiar with from my wildlife photography – the rear end. Here you can see that the statue is slightly more than two Robbs high. And since the Indian’s kneeling – well, that’s one big Indian.

Leaving our friend, we discovered a much easier path back down to where the main trail awaited. Wish we’d known that before!  From here back to the car, the trail got tougher, as we needed to clamber over roots, tree trunks, rocks and even small streams. A couple of times I found it easier to slide on my bum. Eventually we made it back to Valley Green, where another adventure awaited – finding a restaurant that was open on the Fourth of July.

1 Wissahickon_4471 aMy dad grew up very close to the Wissahickon Valley in the 1930s and ’40s, and spent a lot of time there. And told me a lot of tall tales from his boyhood. This first visit just made me more determined to see more of the area he knew so well.

Coming up: Independence Day II: A Morris Mosaic

Photo of Don courtesy of Robb Kerr

Historical information courtesy of the Friends of the Wissahickon  http://www.fow.org/about-park